June 12, 2009 is the final day that full-power television stations will broadcast in an analog over-the-air signal. The date was originally set for February 17, but due to broadcasters who needed more time and congressmen who felt the public needed more time to understand the transition, the deadline was extended until next month.
This also has provided companies more time to create confusion in an effort to sell products and services.
Cable companies like Cablevision use the digital transition to try to convince holdouts still using antennas that the best way to avoid a problem is simply to sign up for a yearly contract, with a special “low-cost program.” They might be right. If you have cable or satellite service, you will be immune to the digital transition. Virtually all cable companies serve digital signals into homes now. But the low-cost program offered might provide you with fewer channels than you have now as a customer of free, over-the-air broadcast television.
Retailers use the digital transition as an excuse to convince consumers that it’s time to upgrade to a high-definition television. I routinely talk to people who are convinced that they need to buy a high-definition television in order to watch any television after the transition date. This was never true. A digital television is not the same as a high-definition television broadcast. You can watch digital television on your older cathode ray tube (CRT) television. You do not need to buy a new television, even if your old box has only an analog tuner.
At the very minimum, you will need to buy a digital converter box if your television has only an analog tuner. There are coupons available, two per family if you apply for the coupon before July 31, to help defray the cost of two converter boxes. If you buy a converter box, keep this in mind: Even after the digital transition deadline, some low-powered stations may continue broadcasting in analog only. If you want to receive these stations after the transition, you must buy a converter box which offers a feature called “pass-through,” which allows analog and digital signals to be sent to your television.
If you use antennas to receive analog television now, the same antennas will receive digital television. Digital signals are weaker, though, so you may find in order to receive digital reception that is comparable to your old analog reception, you’ll need an outdoor antenna.
There is more information from the FCC and the Department of Commerce runs the coupon program.
Updated December 20, 2011 and originally published May 20, 2009.